A Day in the Life: Cruise director

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Welcome to the latest in an exclusive series of articles exploring a typical workday in the lives of travel and hospitality industry professionals. If you would like to comment on this article, please visit the Cruise section of our Forum or e-mail us.

MIAMI -- One would think, after seven years as a cruise director with Carnival Cruise Lines, Troy Linton would have the job description pretty much narrowed down to an exact science.

"I really can't describe exactly what it is that I do. It's different almost every single day."

One thing it's not, he says, is the same job done by the clipboard-carrying Julie McCoy, the perky cruise director of television's "Love Boat."

Spending a day with Linton last month on the Imagination, it becomes apparent that there really is no "typical" day in the life of a cruise director.

Embarkation day is different from a disembarkation day, while a full day at sea carries much different responsibilities than a day in a port-of-call. Today is a full day at sea. It's day two of a five-day itinerary making stops in Grand Cayman and Calica, Mexico.

8:30 a.m. -- Linton begins this day, as he does every other, with morning announcements. In his room, he sips coffee and looks over the day's overstuffed schedule. "Full days at sea are always like this," he says.

8:45 a.m. -- Still in his cabin, Linton reaches over and flips the switch that turns on the ship's public address system. He begins running through the list of activities like a news anchor relaying the day's top stories.

There's a golf putting contest at 9:00 a.m., a dance class at 9:30, a trivia challenge at 10:00 a.m., as well as a snorkeling demonstration, an Eat More to Weigh Less seminar and a game of bingo worth $1,100 bucks. He reminds passengers tonight is the one and only formal night on the ship. "Please be sure to dress appropriately," he says.

Meanwhile, Linton will change his own wardrobe three to four times per day, depending on the his schedule. He laughs. "I have a lot of clothes and very small closet."

Today, he starts out with khakis and a white Polo shirt. He glances at his watch and realizes he's due downstairs any minute for the weekly captain's meeting.

He grabs his coffee and is gone.

9:30 a.m. -- The one-hour meeting focuses on new safety regulations and guidelines.

He listens. He takes notes. "Stuff changes so quickly that keeping up with all the new safety regulations is a constant battle," he says.

10:30 a.m. -- Linton swings back to his cabin and picks up some literature and promotional items -- T-shirts, black coral earrings, Tortuga rum cakes and few underwater cameras for snorkeling in Grand Cayman -- to be given away at a talk he'll be giving this morning on the various shore excursions available.

10:40 a.m. -- It's obvious Linton can not get very far on this ship without being stopped once, twice or 10 times to be asked a question. No matter how many they ask, he doesn't seem to mind at all -- even though he may end up answering the same question several times a day. This latest one is from a gentleman wondering if there's any way to get Cuban cigars into into the U.S.

"Sure isn't," Linton says.

The man's disappointed, figuring Linton can give him some insider information on outsmarting the feds.

"Seriously. You can buy 'em but you gotta smoke 'em on board. There's usually a group of guys up on Lido Deck turning green from smoking a bunch of Cubans the night before the cruise ends. That's always fun to see."

11:00 a.m. -- Time for the shore excursion talk in Dynasty Lounge.

Linton answers passengers' questions about Carnival's shore excursions.

"As a cruise director, it's my job to make sure people have fun, keep them informed so they can decide what's for them and what's not."

He gives out shopping maps showing Carnival-approved stores in Grand Cayman and Mexico. Those stores carry a 30-day, money-back guarantee through Carnival.

"A lot of people are a little unsure of shopping in new places and they want to make sure they're not getting ripped off," Linton says. "This is something Carnival came up with to try to ease concerns and encourage people to feel good about shopping in all our ports of call."

He stresses over and over again that passengers will need to bring their "Sign and Sail" card and one form of picture ID to re-board the ship.

"And yes, we will leave without you," he warns. "If you go off on your own in Grand Cayman and you don't make it back in time you'll be catching a flight to Calica. It's happened before."

12:30 a.m. -- A huge crowd is waiting for Linton after he finishes his talk to ask one-on-one questions.

• "Which tours work best for kids?"
• "Is there lunch provided on the glass-bottom boat tour?"
• "Which Mayan ruin site -- Tulum or Chichen Itza -- does he personally recommend?"
• "Do you recommend that we rent a Jeep in Mexico?"

He tells this woman to use a particular operator that he's used and to pay for the rental with a credit card for protection.

"I feel the shore excursions are a direct reflection on me," he admits. "If I've been on one or I've heard a tour isn't that good I won't recommend it. My job is to make sure everyone enjoys themselves. I have no problem be brutally honest about some of the tours."

As the room begins to empty out a young couple ask him about "Imagine It," tonight's Las Vegas-style show.

"I know the ladies always love this show, but guys ..." he pauses and smiles "well, there will be G-strings in the show." The couple laughs. "Of course it'll be the guys in the band wearing them."

He couldn't resist.

1:00 p.m. -- Lunchtime. Linton hits the staff dining room for a quick bite to eat. It's a buffet, but not like the passengers are accustomed to seeing.

"We don't have the same dining options the passengers do, but I have to say it's getting better. They've introduced new menus so we don't have to eat the same things all the time."

1:30 p.m. -- Linton heads back up to his cabin to begin compiling the contents for tomorrow's Carnival Capers, the ship's daily newsletter. The Capers arrives under every cabin door each morning. Wednesday's Capers begins with banner headline "Welcome to Grand Cayman".

2:40 p.m. -- Linton drops off the finished Capers to the ship's hotel manager. She will serve as its only proofreader.

2:50 p.m. -- Linton swings open his closet door and scans the possibilities. He decides on black pants, a black shirt and a gray blazer. In 10 minutes he has to play host to "The Newlywed, Not So Newlywed" game.

3:00 p.m. -- A game-show hungry crowd has gathered in the Dynasty Lounge and Linton finds three couples in the audience -- the most recently married, the couple that's been married the closest to 25 years and the two that have been married the longest.

Linton's quick to point out when a male contestant answers that the date of the couple's first kiss is weeks before the day he claims they met. "Um ... was that kiss in a very dark room by any chance?" Linton asks.

Linton chats with guests a few moments after hosting

4:30 p.m. -- Linton attends another quick staff meeting. Today, the discussion focuses on how a new dining schedule is working out. On this particular cruise, Linton has change the times of the dinner seatings in the main dining rooms.

In the past, there were early and late seatings. A 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in both the Spirit and Pride dining rooms. In order to generate more traffic around the ship at different times -- as well as give cruisers more time options -- Linton decides to make four dinner seatings: 6 p.m., 6:45 p.m. 8 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. So far it seems to be working like a charm.

"We may have an early show at 7 that ends at 8. Half the people go directly to dinner while the other half have 45 minutes to kill," Linton says. "Well, those people are dressed and aren't going back to their cabins so they'll have a drink, stop by the casino, go to the piano bar or whatever."

It's also improved the flow of traffic on the Promenade deck, where most of the ship's bars and nightclubs are located. In fact, the new traffic flow has Linton seriously considering whether to change the times the band plays in the Shangri La lounge. Linton is forever thinking about ways to generate more traffic -- and thus generate more revenue -- on the ship. In short, the more money the passengers spend on the ship the better it looks for a cruise director come review time.

6:15 p.m. -- Buffet dinner in the staff dining room. After dinner, Linton heads back to his cabin to change into this evening's attire -- a navy blue pinstriped suit and a striped tie.

7:30 p.m. -- Linton is in evening mode and will spend the next three hours "cruising" the entertainment areas of the ship. He's there to see and to be seen. He stops by the ship's bars and lounges. He checks in with "Skippy," his entertainment assistant, to make sure all the night's activities are running on schedule.

8:15 p.m. -- He stops the Dynasty Lounge to see how the first "Imagine It" show went off. No problems. The show will run again at 8:45.

9:00 p.m. -- Linton stops by Illusions Disco and scans the crowd that has gathered for tonight's Teen Disco for 13- to 18-year-olds. He seems pleased, but knows it's only night two of the cruise.

"We do our best to try to keep the teen-agers active and give them a bunch of things to do," Linton says. "It's tough though, because you have to plan events, but make them seem unplanned. It can be very tricky."

10:30 p.m. -- Linton is at the Dynasty Lounge to host an hour of swing and big band music with Zac Lee & the Imagination Orchestra. Linton, a music major in college, got his first gig on a Carnival ship eight years ago as a trumpet player in the orchestra.

Tonight, he jumps in on guest trumpet for a couple of songs. The band plays "In the Mood" and several couples hit the stage to strut their stuff. Next, Linton grabs the microphone and croons Sinatra's classic "It's Witchcraft." Certainly not in the job description, but everyone in the room can tell Linton loves it.

11:55 p.m. -- The day's winding down. Linton makes another pass of the Promenade and ends up stopping and chatting with several guests. There are about 2,500 people on this sailing. Linton figures that he meets and talks with 50% to 75% of all the passengers on each cruise.

"Then I stand by the exit on de-embarkation day and I see groups of people that I never saw the entire cruise and I can't believe that can happen. But it does."

1:00 a.m. -- With day two of the five-day sailing complete, Linton finally turns his attention to tomorrow. "It's going to be an early one," he says.

Imagination arrives in Grand Cayman at 7:15 a.m.

Waterworks: When a job's out to sea

MIAMI -- Generally, Carnival cruise directors sign six- to eight-month contracts. Troy Linton is in the sixth month of a contract that runs through November.
  He then gets six weeks off before beginning another six-to eight-month stint on a different Carnival ship. This year, he's one of the lucky ones -- he'll get Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's off. He arranged it that way because last year he was stuck working for the millennium celebration.
  "This job isn't for everybody. It's -- literally -- an around-the-clock, job," he says. "You're never off duty and it takes a special kind of person to enjoy this kind of work. But I love it."
  And when he's not on a vacation break, Linton is constantly working. In a two-week period, the Imagination sails two five-day and a four-day itinerary.
  That leaves six "turn-around" days a month for Linton to jump on the mainland for a few hours or so to get things done.
  Is it worth it? Well, Carnival will not give out salary information for cruise directors; however, Linton recently took a short leave from the Imagination to pick up his brand new Jaguar.
  He parks it near the Carnival terminal in Miami so he can use it on those turnaround days.

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